name = Tanagers

image_width = 240px
image_caption = Grass-green Tanager, "Chlorornis riefferii"
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
ordo = Passeriformes
subordo = Passeri
familia = Thraupidae
familia_authority =
subdivision_ranks = Genera
subdivision = many: see text
The tanagers are a family, Thraupidae, of birds in the order Passeriformes. The family has an American distribution.

There were traditionally about 240 species of tanagers, but the taxonomic treatment of this family's members is currently in a state of flux. As more of these birds are studied using modern molecular techniques it is expected that some genera may be relocated elsewhere. Already the Euphonias and chlorophonias, which were once considered part of the tanager family, are now treated as members of Fringillidae, in their own subfamily (Euphoniinae). Likewise the genera "Piranga", "Chlorothraupis", and "Habia" appear to be related to members of the Cardinal family [Yuri & Mindell (2002)] , and may soon be reassigned by the AOU.


Tanagers are small to medium-sized birds. The shortest-bodied species, the White-eared Conebill, is 9 cm (3.8 in) long and weighs 7 grams, barely smaller than the Short-billed Honeycreeper. The longest, the Magpie Tanager is 28 cm (11 in) and weighs 76 grams (2.7 oz). The heaviest is the White-capped Tanager which weighs 114 grams (4 oz) and measures about 23 cm (8.7 in). Both sexes are usually the same size and weight. Tanagers are often brightly colored, but some species are black and white. Birds in their first year are often duller or a different color altogether. Males are typically more brightly coloured than females.

Most tanagers have short, rounded wings. The shape of the bill seems to be linked to the species' foraging habits.


Tanagers are restricted to the New World and mainly to the tropics. About 60% of tanagers live in South America, and 30% of these species live in the Andes. Most species are endemic to a relatively small area. 18 species live in North America and Central America year round. 4 species are migratory, breeding in North America. They are the Scarlet Tanager, Western Tanager, Hepatic Tanager and the Summer Tanager. Recent molecular evidence indicates these 4 migratory species may be more closely related to the family Cardinalidae.


Most tanagers live in pairs or in small groups of 3-5 individuals. These groups may consist simply of parents and their offspring. Birds may also be seen in single species or mixed flocks. Many tanagers are thought to have dull songs, though some are elaborate.


Tanagers are omnivorous, and their diet varies from genus to genus. They have been seen eating fruits, seeds, nectar, flower parts and insects. Many pick insects off branches. Other species look for insects on the underside of leaves. Yet others wait on branches until they see a flying insect and catch it in the air. Many of these particular species inhabit the same areas, but these specializations alleviate competition.


The breeding season begin in March through until June in temperate areas and in September through October in South America. Some species are territorial while others build their nests closer together. There is little information on tanager breeding behavior or whether they are monogamous or polygamous. Males show off their brightest feathers to potential mates and rival males. Some species' courtship rituals involve bowing and tail lifting.

Most tanagers build cup nests on branches in trees. Some nests are almost globular. Entrances are usually built on the side of the nest. The nests can be shallow or deep. The species of the tree they choose to build their nest in and the nest's position varies among genera. Most species nest in an area hidden by very dense vegetation. There is still no information on the nests of some species.

The clutch size is 3–5 eggs. The female incubates the eggs and builds the nest, but the male may feed the female while she incubates. Both sexes feed the young. Five species have helpers assist in feeding the young. These helpers are thought to be the previous year's nestlings.


Phylogenetic studies suggest the true tanagers form three main groups two of which consist of several smaller, well-supported clades. [Fjeldså & Rahbek (2006) & Klicka et al (2007)] The list below is an attempt using information gleaned from the latest studies to organise them into coherent related groups, and as such may contain groupings not yet accepted by or are under review by the various ornithological taxonomy authorities. [See http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/SACCBaseline.html ]

Group 1

Mainly dull-coloured forms

a) Conebill and flowerpiercer group (Also contains "Haplospiza", "Catamenia", "Acanthidops", "Diglossa", "Diglossopis", "Phrygilus" and "Sicalis" [Burns et al (2003) & Klicka et al (2007)] traditionally in the Emberizidae) [See Webster & Webster (1999). If the presence of a free lacrimal bone as found in "Haplospiza", "Acanthidops", and two of the three "Catamenia"s has any phylogenetic significance then this clade may also include several other "tanager-finches" that share this feature] This group despite having a rather varied bill morphology shows marked plumage similarities. Most are largely grey, blue, or black, and numerous have rufous on the underparts:
* Genus "Conirostrum" – typical conebills (10 species)
* Genus "Oreomanes" – Giant Conebill
* Genus "Xenodacnis" – Tit-like Dacnis
* Genus "Catamenia" (3 species)
* Genus "Diglossa" – typical flowerpiercers (14 species)
* Genus "Diglossopis" – blue flowerpiercers (4 species)
* Genus "Haplospiza" (2 species). Paraphyletic with 2 species of sierra-finch "Phrygilus" [Klicka (2007)]
* Genus "Acanthidops" – Peg-billed Finch
* Genus "Phrygilus" - sierra-finches (11 species) [Webster & Webster (1999) & Klicka et al (2007). Probably polyphyletic]
* Genus "Sicalis" – yellow-finches (12 species). Paraphyletic with "Phrygilus" [Klicka et al (2007)]

b) True seedeaters. Traditionally placed in Emberizidae. These genera share a particular foot-scute pattern which suggests that they may form a monophyletic group [Clark (1986)] :
* Genus "Sporophila" – typical seedeaters (some 55 species)
* Genus "Oryzoborus" (6 species) [See Lijtmaer et al (2004) & Robbins et al (2005). Polyphyletic. Members of this genus are paraphyletic with various members of "Sporophila"]
* Genus "Dolospingus" – White-naped Seedeater [See Robbins et al (2005). This species is nested within a group containing both "Sporophila" and "Oryzoborus"]
* Genus "Charitospiza" – Coal-crested Finch

c) "Yellow-rumped" clade [Burns et al (2003)] :
* Genus "Heterospingus" (2 species)
* Genus "Chrysothlypis" (2 species)
* Genus "Hemithraupis" (3 species)

d) "Crested" clade (Also contains "Coryphospingus" & "Volatinia" traditionally placed in the Emberizidae):
* Genus "Ramphocelus" – silver-billed tanagers (9 species)
* Genus "Lanio" – shrike-tanagers (4 species)
* Genus "Eucometis" – Gray-headed Tanager
* Genus "Tachyphonus" (8 species)
* Genus "Trichothraupis" – Black-goggled Tanager
* Genus "Stephanophorus " – Diademed Tanager
* Genus "Coryphospingus" (2 species)
* Genus "Volatinia" – Blue-black Grassquit

e) "Blue Finch" clade. Relationships within Thraupidae uncertain but may be related to "Poospiza" clade [(See below: Group 1f)] :
* Genus "Porphyrospiza" - Blue Finch [Klicka et al (2007). This species formerly placed near "Passerina" in the Cardinalidae is related to "Phrygilus alaudinus" a tanager-finch]
* Genus? "Phrygilus alaudinus" [http://www.zoonomen.net/cit/RI/Genera/RIGenAZ.html] - Band-tailed Sierra-finch

f) The "Poospiza" clade - a diverse but close-knit group containing both warbler and finch-like forms:
* Genus "Poospiza" – mountain- and warbling-finches (17 species) [Klicka et al (2007). This genus is very likely polyphyletic within its clade]
* Genus "Cnemoscopus" – Gray-hooded Bush Tanager
* Genus "Hemispingus" – hemispinguses (12 species)
* Genus "Thlypopsis" (6 species)
* Genus "Pyrrhocoma" – Chestnut-headed Tanager
* Genus "Cypsnagra" – White-rumped Tanager
* Genus "Nephelornis " – Pardusco

g) Grass & Pampa-finches. Relationships within Thraupidae uncertain but together form a well-supported clade [Klicka et al (2007)] :
* Genus "Emberizoides" (3 species)
* Genus "Embernagra" (2 species)

h) A miscellaneous and likely polyphyletic group of unplaced "tanager-finches" (which may or may not include the species called Tanager-finch) whose members when studied will no doubt be relocated to other clades:
* Genus "Melanodera" (2 species)
* Genus "Rowettia" – Gough Island Finch
* Genus "Nesospiza" (2 species)
* Genus "Gubernatrix" – Yellow Cardinal
* Genus "Idiopsar" – Short-tailed Finch
* Genus "Piezorhina" – Cinereous Finch
* Genus "Xenospingus" – Slender-billed Finch
* Genus "Incaspiza" – inca-finches (5 species)
* Genus "Coryphaspiza" – Black-masked Finch
* Genus "Rhodospingus" – Crimson-breasted Finch
* Genus "Donacospiza" – Long-tailed Reed-finch (may be related to "Poospiza" [Ridgely & Tudor (1989) p.472] )

i) Basal forms in group 1:
*Genus "Conothraupis" (2 species)
*Genus "Orchesticus" – Brown Tanager
*Genus" Creurgops" (2 species)

Group 2

"Typical" colourful Tanagers
Darwin's finches] a) Tropical canopy tanagers:
* Genus "Thraupis" - "T. abbas & episcopus" at least [Klicka et al (2007). Some members of this genus paraphyletic with respect to certain "Tangara"]
* Genus "Tangara" (about 50 species)

b) The "Tholospiza" - Darwin's finches, grassquits, atypical honeycreepers and some seedeaters. [See Burns et al (2002) for the circumscription of this group the "domed nest clade" or "Tholospiza".] The finch-like forms in this clade were formerly classified in the Emberizidae:
* Genus "Geospiza" – ground finches (6 species)
* Genus "Camarhynchus" – tree finches (6 species)
* Genus "Certhidea" – Warbler Finch
* Genus "Pinaroloxias" – Cocos Island Finch
* Genus "Melopyrrha" – Cuban Bullfinch
* Genus "Coereba" – Bananaquit. Formerly placed in own family Coerebidae [See Burns et al (2002). Exact affinities uncertain but probably sister species to "Tiaris olivacea" in the "Tholospiza"]
* Genus "Tiaris" – grassquits (5 species) - polyphyletic
* Genus "Loxipasser" – Yellow-shouldered Grassquit
* Genus "Euneornis" – Orangequit
* Genus "Melanospiza" – St. Lucia Black Finch
* Genus "Loxigilla" – Antillean bullfinches (3 species) - polyphyletic

c) Mountain tanagers:
* Genus" Cyanicterus " – Blue-backed Tanager
* Genus" Bangsia " – (5 species)
* Genus" Buthraupis " – (4 species)
* Genus "Chlorornis" – Grass-green Tanager
* Genus" Wetmorethraupis " – Orange-throated Tanager
* Genus" Anisognathus " – (5 species)
* Genus "Dubusia" – Buff-breasted Mountain-tanager
* Genus" Delothraupis " – Chestnut-bellied Mountain-tanager
* Genus? "Saltator rufiventris" - Rufous-bellied 'Saltator' [See http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/SACCBaseline10.html Apparently close to mountain-tanagers "Dubusia" and "Delothraupis"]

d) Typical tanagers:
* Genus" Thraupis" - "Thraupis bonariensis" at least belongs here
* Genus" Pipraeidea " – Fawn-breasted Tanager
* Genus" Iridosornis " (5 species)

e) Typical multicoloured tanagers (includes "Paroaria" traditionally placed in either Emberizidae or Cardinalidae):
* Genus "Diuca" (2 species)
* Genus "Lophospingus" (2 species)
* Genus "Neothraupis" – White-banded Tanager
* Genus "Cissopis" – Magpie Tanager
* Genus "Paroaria" (5–6 species)
* Genus "Schistochlamys " (2 species)

f) Green & Golden-collared Honeycreepers [See Burns et al (2003) for close relationship of these species] :
* Genus" Chlorophanes" – Green Honeycreeper
* Genus" Iridophanes " – Golden-collared Honeycreeper

g) Typical honeycreepers and relatives [See Burns et al (2003)] ] :
* Genus "Tersina " – Swallow Tanager
* Genus "Cyanerpes", the typical honeycreepers (4 species)
* Genus "Pseudodacnis " – Turquoise Dacnis-tanager
* Genus "Dacnis", the dacnises (8 species)

h) Basal lineages within group 2:
* Genus "Chlorochrysa" (3 species)
* Genus "Parkerthraustes" – Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak (traditionally in Cardinalidae, but biochemical evidence suggests it is a tanager)
* Genus "Nemosia" – (2 species)
* Genus "Compsothraupis" – Scarlet-throated Tanager
* Genus "Sericossypha" – White-capped Tanager

Group 3


* Genus "Saltator" (16 species; traditionally placed in Cardinalidae, but biochemical evidence suggests they may be tanagers or a sister groupKlicka & Spellman (2007)] )
* Genus "Saltatricula" – Many-colored Chaco-finch. Traditionally placed in the Emberizidae but may be related to one of the Saltators [See http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/SACCBaseline10.html] [Klicka et al (2007). Apparently closest to "Saltator atricollis" and this species may require moving to "Saltatricula"]

Thraupidae incertae sedis

* Genus "Mitrospingus" (2 species)
* Genus "Orthogonys" – Olive-green Tanager
* Genus "Calochaetes" – Vermilion Tanager
* Genus "Catamblyrhynchus" – Plushcap or Plush-capped Finch
* Genus "Oreothraupis" – Tanager-finch [ See http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/SACCBaseline10.html. May be related to the emberizine genus "Atlapetes"]
* Genus "Urothraupis" – Black-backed Bush-tanager
* Genus "Rhodinocichla" – Rosy Thrush-tanager
* Genus "Lamprospiza" – Red-billed Pied Tanager
* Genus "Phaenicophilus" – palm-tanagers (2 species)
* Genus "Calyptophilus" – chat-tanagers (2 species)
* Genus "Nesospingus" – Puerto Rican Tanager
* Genus "Spindalis" – spindalises (4 species). Exact affinities uncertain but lie outside the tanagers.

Recently split from Thraupidae

Related to " Arremonops" and other american sparrows in Emberizidae:
*Genus "Chlorospingus" – bush-tanagers (around 10 species)

Related to the cardinals in Cardinalidae [See http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/SACCBaseline11.html] :
*Genus" Piranga" – northern tanagers (9 species)
*Genus" Habia" – ant-tanagers or habias (5 species)
*Genus" Chlorothraupis" (3 species)
*Genus "Amaurospiza" (4 species; apparently very close to "Cyanocompsa" in Cardinalidae and might even belong therein)



* Bent, A. Life Histories of Blackbirds, Orioles, Tanagers, and Allies. New York:Dover Publications:1965. 549 p.
* Burns, K. J., S. J. Hackett, and N. K. Klein. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships and morphological diversity in Darwin's finches and their relatives. Evolution 56: 1240-1252.
* Burns, K. J., S. J. Hackett, and N. K. Klein. 2003. Phylogenetic relationships of Neotropical honeycreepers and the evolution of feeding morphology. J. Avian Biology 34: 360-370.
* Clark, G. A., JR. 1986. Systematic interpretations of foot-scute patterns of Neotropical finches. Wilson Bull. 98: 594-597.
* Fjeldså J. and Rahbek C. (2006). Diversification of tanagers, a species rich bird group, largely follows lowlands to montane regions of South America. Integrative and Comparative Biology 46(1):72-81. Download - http://intl-icb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/46/1/72.
* Greeney, H. 2005. Nest and eggs of the Yellow-whiskered Bush Tanager in Eastern Ecuador. Ornitologia Neotropical 16: 437- 438.
* Hellmayr, C. E. 1935. Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands in Field Museum of Natural History. Fieldiana Zoology v.13, pt.8. - for "Coerebidae". (Download available at http://www.archive.org/details/catalogueofbirds138hell)
* Hellmayr, C. E. 1936. Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands in Field Museum of Natural History. Fieldiana Zoology v.13, pt.9. Tersinidae - Thraupidae. (Download available at http://www.archive.org/details/catalogueofbirds139hell)
* Hellmayr, C. E. 1938. Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands in Field Museum of Natural History. Fieldiana Zoology v.13, pt.11. Ploceidae - Catamblyrhynchidae - Fringillidae. (Download available at http://www.archive.org/details/catalogueofbirdso1311hell)
* Infonatura. 2005 June. [http://www.natureserve.org Birds, mammals, and amphibians of Latin America] Accessed 2006 March 4.
* Isler M. Isler P. The Tanagers a Natural History, Distribution, and Identification. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press: 1987. 404 p.
* Klicka, J., K. Burns, & G. M. Spellman. 2007. Defining a monophyletic Cardinalini: A molecular perspective. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45: 1014-1032
* Lijtmaer, D. A., N. M. Sharpe, P. L. Tubaro & S. C. Lougheed. 2004. Molecular phylogenetics and diversification of the genus Sporophila (Aves: Passeriformes). Mol. Philo. Evol. 33:562-579.
* Lougheed, S. C., J. R. Freeland, P. Handford, & I. T. Boag. 2000. A molecular phylogeny of warbling-finches (Poospiza): paraphyly in a Neotropical emberizid genus. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 17: 367-378.
* Montereybay. 2000 July. 6-11. [http://montereybay.com/creagrus/Tanagers.html Tanagers: Thraupidae] Accessed 2006 March 4.
* Naoki, K. 2003. Evolution of Ecological Diversity in the Neotropical Tanagers of the Genus Tangara (Aves: Thraupidae). Dissertation available online, given to Louisiana State University.
* Ridgely, R. S., & G. Tudor. 1989. The Birds of South America, vol. 1. Univ. Texas Press, Austin.
* Robbins, M. B., M. J. Braun, C. J. Huddleston, D. W. Finch, & C. M. Milensky (2005). First Guyana records, natural history, and systematics of the White-winged Seedeater (Dolospingus fringilloides). Ibis 147:334-341.
* Sato, A., C. O'Huigin, F. Figueroa, P. R. Grant, B. R. Grant, H. Tichy, and J. Klein. 1999. Phylogeny of Darwin's finches as revealed by mtDNA sequences. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 96: 5101-5106.
* Webster, J.D. & Webster, J.R. 1999. Skeletons and the genera. of sparrows (Emberizinae). Auk 116: 1054–1074.
* Yuri, T., and D. P. Mindell. 2002. Molecular phylogenetic analysis of Fringillidae, "New World nine-primaried oscines" (Aves: Passeriformes) Mol. Phylogen. Evol. 23:229-243.

External links

* [http://www.junglewalk.com/sound/Tanager-sounds.htm Jungle-walk.com Tanager pictures]
* [http://ibc.hbw.com/ibc/phtml/familia.phtml?idFamilia=200 Tanager videos] on the Internet Bird Collection

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